In 1999, an artist was commissioned to help improve a subway leading from Waterloo Station. In 2019 the same artist protested about the efforts to restore the art.
The artist is Sue Hubbard, and the work of art is Eurydice, a long poem that was stencilled into the walls of a subway linking the station to the IMAX cinema by Railtrack, with the Arts Council and the BFI.
Written in a series of three-lined stepped stanzas the poem was set out so that it could be read whilst walking through the tunnel. Using the metaphor of Eurydice descending into the underworld it aimed to make walkers feel safe. As well as the classical myth, the poem’s imagery makes reference to London’s Thameside history and to the famous Waterloo clock, a meeting point in so many British films.
That was eight years ago, and all seemed quiet until recently.
Builders were spotted in the tunnels, seemingly working on repainting the walls.
Then the artist started a rather peculiar public spat with the Chairman of Network Rail over the restoration works, demanding to know who the restorers are and why they are doing the work. Despite being told that the builders were protecting the art while maintaining the subway, the artist set up a petition calling for the work of art to be preserved.
Then Owen Jones got involved, tweeting that “National Rail are destroying a publicly funded art poem at Waterloo”, and even after Network Rail’s Chairman responded, as did Waterloo station, Jones didn’t correct his comment.
By now the petition had nearly 700 signatures (or clicks of a mouse).
All having managed to ignore the fact that Network Rail has said it was restoring the work, not destroying it.
Then Sir Peter Hendy tweeted some pictures of the freshly restored artwork.
The whole spat seems to be a proverbial storm in a teacup caused by an artist refusing to believe that “mere builders” could have the skills to paint around something and look after it.
But, set that aside and once more enjoy a clean, restored subway — and the art in it.